Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap

I was one for a couple of years in the 90s. I know that some of you are. Many of you know one. Nevertheless, I wonder if the majority of you have ever seen one. Itinerant archaeologist would be the polite term for them. Their business cards would read ‘Have Shovel, Will Travel’ if they could afford business cards. Or, better still, ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.’ Most are just a phone number on the front page of someone’s excavation log book. Some might get a mention in a report. Collectively you can call them by their usual tag: Shovel Bums.
     They love archaeology, the outdoors, interesting companions, the side trips to sample local colour (to say nothing of the local micro-brewery), and most of them wish that they had some job security. Compared to the Project Archaeologists, they’re paid like the extras in a movie. And you could probably justify their pay grade if they were university kids trying to make a buck in the summer. That hardly describes the ones who’ve done this year in and year out. They’re sought out by the Project Archaeologists because of two qualities they possess: they’ll give you a good day’s work, and they’ve probably worked on most of the earlier projects in your vicinity. Sure, they’ve worked ALL over the state, and maybe shouldn’t know anything about your site or its neighbours. But they’ve been all over the state, over and over again. They’ve covered it like white on rice. And their knowledge is deep.
     Did I say state? I misspoke. Borders mean little to them. Nevada? Sure. Big project in Oregon? Put me down. Some would say that they’re happy as long as they can keep themselves in beer and cigarettes. Maybe so. Such moralizing does violence to their dedication to Archaeology. And besides, you could say the same about a lot of academics! 
     There are a few job ‘clearing houses’ on the web, and it’s probably a good thing that many public libraries have internet access for those unfortunate enough not to have a computer at home, or a home, for that matter. The oldest, so far as I know, is shovelbums.org. 
     Next time you meet one, you might offer to buy them a beer. Believe me, you’ll learn more about your craft than you ever thought was possible. And you’ll laugh until you cry. There’s little diplomatic reverence for the ‘field director’ in their stories, and a healthy dose of self-deprecation that might just explain why they’re at the bottom, rather than the top, of their profession. Fellow members of the SDC will know what I mean. [I sincerely wish that I could give a golden Marshalltown to anyone who knows what the acronym SDC stands for. They would honestly deserve it.] Raise your glasses.

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